Dining by the Sea: The Best Restaurants in Fort Lauderdale

When it comes to South Florida dining, Fort Lauderdale and greater Broward County is like Miami’s down-to-earth, beachy sister, serving stellar plates without the pretension. Elegant Italian, late-night Japanese and ocean breeze all help make Fort Lauderdale a dining destination of its own.

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Photo By: Michael Pisarri

Photo By: Michael Pisarri

Beachfront: S3

Fort Lauderdale's beautiful beaches are on full display at S3: The restaurant offers Atlantic views from nearly every seat. Scenery aside, this place has plenty of appeal, including multicourse share-a-plate-style meals, great drinks and a sultry indoor-outdoor bar scene with live DJs and fire pits. There are ample reasons to head indoors, too, including a well-appointed Southeast Asian atmosphere and a menu of global eclectic fare, like sushi, oak-grilled steaks, mac ‘n' cheese with smoked Gouda and prosciutto, and brisket sliders.

Seafood: 3030 Ocean

For more than a decade, 3030 Ocean has earned praise for its sophisticated presentations of locally sourced fare under the guidance of local celebrity chefs. The Fort Lauderdale stalwart has always been appreciated for its impeccable farm-to-table food, though the atmosphere needed a refresh. Recently, the interior got the chic maritime-inspired makeover it deserves. Now helmed by Chopped champion Adrienne Grenier, the restaurant serves high-quality Florida seafood in dishes like cobia sashimi with black garlic puree, house-smoked fish dip, and grilled Florida grouper with polenta.

Date Night: Valentino

With crisp white walls, wood-beamed ceilings, vintage-style couches and reclaimed-wood accents, Valentino Cucina Italiana feels like a luxurious Tuscan escape — or a scene from a high-end furniture catalogue. Elegant yet understated, it’s the perfect scene for a romantic night on the town. As memorable as the setting is, the food is even more stunning. Chef Giovanni Rocchio prepares an ever-changing array of innovative, modern Italian cuisine. Everything is made on the premises, from the cavatelli, served with osso buco, bone marrow, ricotta salata and porcini mushroom, to the garlicky lobster Bolognese to the delicate final pastries. The restaurant also hosts epic events, often featuring esteemed winemakers and Michelin-rated chefs from the motherland.

Burgers: Charm City Burger Company

Taking cues from old-school burger stands, this counter-style shop serves old-fashioned steak burgers with modern, chef-inspired accoutrements. Fast, cheap, delicious: It’s the perfect greasy storm. The Good Ole burger, with or without cheese, costs a mere $5.50. The Big Sloppy, a monstrous pile of double meat, double bacon, double cheese, hash browns and fried egg, still rings in under $10. High-end options are available, too; the Emperor combines an eight-ounce American Kobe beef melt with sauteed mushrooms, aged Swiss and truffle aioli. Want to go really decadent? Throw on a piece of foie gras. Those looking to steer clear of beef should opt for chicken, veggie, lamb, tuna or sausage burgers. To wash the burgers down, the shop proffers a selection of commercial and craft brews, specialty sodas and shakes.

Brunch: Blue Moon Fish Co.

Set on the Intracoastal Waterway, overlooking multimillion-dollar yachts and svelte paddleboarders, Blue Moon Fish Co. has a sublime view. Fittingly, it is one of the most-exemplary seafood spots on the Gold Coast, with superb food and a brunch that could go head-to-head with any place on the planet. For less than $60 per person, guests tuck into unlimited food and bottomless mimosas, bloody Marys and champagne. There’s an omelet stand, a carving station, a salad bar, and a raw bar with freshly shucked oysters, clams and shrimp. Mini cannoli, cupcakes, ice cream, creme brulee, pastry puffs, parfaits, cookies and more line the finale dessert table. Between the talented chefs and the striking natural surroundings, there’s no better place to spend a Sunday morning.

Comfort Food: Hot & Soul

Christy Samoy and Mike Hampton dreamed of opening their own restaurant long before they debuted their global soul food spot in 2013. The couple, who met during college in Tallahassee, have worked in kitchens from Boston to San Diego, cooking all different international cuisines. Their diverse life experiences fill the menu of their tiny, locally beloved restaurant. There’s barbecue shrimp in a creamy spice-scented sauce, and a rotating array of gumbos inspired by the couple's time at culinary school in New Orleans. Chicken adobo, a classic Filipino recipe with a bold vinegar-garlic-soy sauce, has been passed down from Samoy’s Fillipino family. Housemade gnocchi with San Marzano tomatoes and oxtail represents their time working at Italian restaurants. It’s pure comfort, no matter your background.

Tasting: Kuro

Back in the day, Broward County was better known for Spring Breakers and topless doughnut shops (for real) rather than fancy dining. For proof it’s evolved, look no further than Kuro. Set in the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, this classy restaurant focuses on traditional Japanese kaiseki-style cuisine. Executive Chef Alex Becker serves impeccable multi-course dinners that evoke high-end tasting concepts that wouldn’t be out of place in New York City, San Francisco or even Tokyo. Dishes feature local and imported ingredients, prepared with classic Japanese technique, brought out in traditional sequence that moves from light to rich.

Pizza: Vinnie’s By the Sea

A Brooklyn native, Vincent Foti is known for his excellent Italian cuisine. His high-energy stalwart, Kitchenetta, has racked up numerous awards. But Foti’s new Lauderdale-by-the-Sea concept, Vinnie’s, has one-upped his already outstanding pies with the help of a handmade wood-burning oven shipped from Naples, Italy. It’s all about attention to detail here. Imported Caputo 00 Italian flour is mixed into dough, topped with fresh red sauce — made with Italian tomatoes, of course — and freshly pulled mozzarella cheese. Each once is thrown into the scorching-hot oven for just over a minute until the crust becomes bubbly and super-crisp. Topped with extra virgin olive oil and basil leaves, these pies are as close to Brooklyn (or Italy!) one can find in the Sunshine State.

Barbecue: Blue Willy's Barbecue

At nine years old, Will Banks started smoking meat at his grandfather’s Elgin, Texas, butcher shop and barbecue joint. When Banks was 15, his grandfather sold the business and the family relocated to New York City, but neighbors could still smell wood-smoked brisket aromas wafting from their Queens backyard. After a long stint in the corporate world, Banks has followed in his grandfather’s footsteps, opening an old-school Texas barbecue joint in Oakland Park. Juicy brisket, chewy spare ribs and bold Kreuz Market Texas jalapeno-cheese sausages are served on butcher paper just as you’d find in the Lone Star State. Lines of patrons snake well beyond the door nearly every day of the week, but the crowds are particularly large on Thursdays, when Banks makes peppercorn-crusted smoked pastrami, piled high on a onion bun with coleslaw and a side of grainy mustard.

Late Night: Marumi Sushi

Tucked away from sight, in a nondescript Sunrise strip mall, this authentic izakaya offers late-night food for nearly every Japanese-food craving. Open until 1:30 a.m. every night, Marumi has en excellent selection of noodles, including udon, soba and seven different ramens. Plates extend from snacks like gyoza to more substantial hot pots, including seafood miso and kimchee with tofu. There’s also top-notch sushi and a lengthy list of grilled items — whole squid, spicy lamb steak, Wagyu beef. And that’s just the set menu. On every visit, attentive servers roll over a dry-erase board of specials. Don’t be surprised to find exotic dishes like live orange clam, whole crispy fried smelt, simmered pork feet or spicy fried grouper head, all an excellent end to a late night.

Brewery: Funky Buddha Brewery

Broward County has long been a craft-beer destination. Locally owned bars and restaurants compete to serve the best local, independent brews. In 2013, Funky Buddha Brewery upped the audience with the beer equivalent of a mega-church. It’s 54,000-square-foot production facility quickly became a top local hangout, offering great suds, brewery tours, fun games (think: giant Jenga) and, eventually, a full kitchen. It also catapulted Fort Lauderdale’s nascent beer scene into the national spotlight, winning awards for its culinary-driven brews like its infamous Maple Bacon Coffee Porter. Now owned by Constellation Brands, the beer has a national footprint, but the brewery and taproom still offer the laid-back, local vibe that made it a favorite.

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